Colts' Clark accepts another missed Pro Bowl

Updated: December 16, 2008, 6:29 PM ET
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis considers Dallas Clark a Pro Bowl talent, even if the voters disagree.

The small-town Iowa kid doesn't seem to mind.

He already owns a Super Bowl ring, the Colts' single-season records for a tight end, and has the unfettered respect of teammates who know that sometimes Pro Bowl selections are based more on reputation than productivity. Besides, he's getting paid like the best tight end in the NFL.

To Clark, that's enough to suffice.

"It would be cool to go," the six-year veteran said before being bypassed for the Pro Bowl again Tuesday. "I've just come to a point where I'm not basing a successful year on that. But it would be a great honor."

Indy's braintrust has made no secret it believes Clark belongs in Hawaii, pointing to a resume most tight ends only dream about.

The AFC's old standbys for the Pro Bowl -- Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates -- have never even played in a Super Bowl, much less won one. And unlike Clark, who is surrounded by a cast of Pro Bowlers, Gonzalez and Gates have piled up their numbers as the top receiving options on their respective teams.

Clark plays the more traditional role.

He's asked to block, do the dirty work over the middle and accept that Reggie Wayne, Marvin Harrison and Anthony Gonzalez may get more looks from Manning on a weekly basis.

Yet his combination of good hands, surprising speed and versatility causes chaos for opponents, and has him ranked second among all AFC tight ends in receptions this season.

"If we had any druthers about the Pro Bowl, it would be Dallas," team president Bill Polian told NFL Network after Tuesday's selections. "He has been an integral part of our offense for a long, long time, and when you talk to other teams, they tell you that he's the first guy they have to defense."

How valuable is Clark to Indy's offense?

Consider he twice has bettered Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey's single-season franchise records for receptions and yards. On Sunday, Clark also established a single-game record for receptions by a tight end, catching 12 passes for 142 yards and one TD in a 31-21 victory over Detroit.

When opponents play deep, Clark cleans up underneath.

But last week's big game came too late to help Clark make his case this year.

"Unfortunately, the voting was done before Sunday's game," said Manning, who earned his ninth Pro Bowl selection in 11 seasons.

Manning, who now needs one more Pro Bowl spot to match the franchise record, will be joined on the AFC's roster by Wayne and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Manning and Freeney will both start.

Freeney is making his fourth trip to Hawaii, but his first since 2005. Wayne made the team for the third straight year, and if anyone can empathize with Clark's plight, it's Mathis, who has forced more fumbles (30) than any player in the league other than Freeney (35) since 2002.

Until Tuesday, Mathis, who was in the same 2003 draft class as Clark, had never made the Pro Bowl.

"Robert, to me, is really a no-brainer," Manning said. "I think it's going to be real exciting for someone like Robert."

Clark's journey has been more treacherous, though.

His rookie season ended prematurely when he broke his right leg in late November after flipping through the air, a harbinger. He's missed 15 of 94 career games with a series of different injuries.

Part of it is the way he throws his body around and the fearlessness he uses over the middle, making him susceptible to highlight-making hits.

It's just part of the job for Clark.

"We run a lot of underneath stuff, so sometimes it gets crowded down there, and Peyton doesn't have any other choice," he said. "It's an ugly part of the job, it's the part that makes my grandma back home cringe. But at the end of the day, you have to hold onto it."

More often than not, Clark has.

With two games remaining, he's already caught 63 passes for 684 yards, both career highs and already Colts records.

But to Clark, this game is not about numbers or Pro Bowl appearances.

"It's been a solid season, but my No. 1 goal is to stay healthy and I had that injury and missed a game early," he said. "If you stay healthy, you naturally get a good feel for things during the week. Is it my best season? I don't think so. But it's been solid and we're winning."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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